SC’s Leonen: Drug list violates fundamental rights

Lian Buan
SC’s Leonen: Drug list violates fundamental rights
'If it is done by your government, when there is an official process that does that, then would you say that there is a fundamental right that is violated?' says Supreme Court Associate Justice Marvic Leonen

MANILA, Philippines – Just being included in a drug list is already a violation of a person’s fundamental rights, Supreme Court (SC) Associate Justice Marvic Leonen said on Tuesday, November 21, during the first round of oral arguments on petitions questioning the war on drugs.

“Getting on the list itself, and not getting out, is itself a violation of a constitutional right, correct?” Leonen said during his interpellation of Joel Butuyan from the Center for International Law (CenterLaw), one of the petitioners.

Under the drug war, tipsters in a community may report names of alleged drug dealers or users to the Philippine National Police (PNP). This, among others, would be the basis of police to come up with a drug list.

In particular, Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) Memorandum Circular (MC) No. 2017-112 operationalized the Mamamayang Ayaw sa Anomalya, Mamamayang Ayaw sa Iligal na Droga or Masa Masid program, under which cities, municipalities, and barangays are required to establish a system of reporting suspected drug personalities.

The most controversial channel so far – drop boxes.

Leonen said this, in itself, already violates Section 11, Article II of the Constitution which states that: “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.”

Leonen also pointed out that in CenterLaw’s petition, a person on a drug list was not given an opportunity to make his case to the police to get himself off the list. Leonen led Butuyan to say there are no provisions in the government circular that would enable a person to get himself or herself off the list.

FIGHTING THE DRUG WAR. Joel Butuyan of the Center for International Law argues before the Supreme Court why the PNP's war on drugs is irregular and a violation of rights. Photo by Lian Buan/Rappler


“Therefore, giving a mistaken label without procedure for you to get out of that particular label, for that label to stick even among official circles, can be a dangerous thing,” Leonen said.

He added: “There are certain kinds of labels put on you that make you less than human. Is that not correct? Of course it can be done by your friends and enemies, because that’s what happens when you live in a society. But if it is done by your government, when there is an official process that does that, then would you say that here is a fundamental right that is violated?”

Leonen advised Butuyan to specify in his memorandum which provisions under the government circular are considered unconstitutional. The associate justice told him to link the killings allegedly perpetrated by vigilantes – but which CenterLaw claims were masterminded by the police – to the circular.

Butuyan said the killings happened only after the circular was issued, or after President Rodrigo Duterte made the pronouncement to crack down on drugs.

“Perhaps you can cover the balance between community participation and what is constitutional and why you would say that the activities happening in San Andres Bukid are unconstitutional in the light of the need for community participation,” Leonen said.

During his interpellation of Jose Manuel Diokno of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG), the other petitioner, Leonen said the circular of PNP chief Director General Ronald dela Rosa violates laws against torture.

Leonen said that to declare these circulars unconstitutional would not stop the government from fighting drugs.

Dela Rosa was told to appear for the second round of oral arguments on November 28, alongside other officials. Solicitor General Jose Calida will take the floor on behalf of the PNP. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.